Sunday, October 28

Week 382 - Steady Eddies

Situation: Some high-quality companies don’t pay good and growing dividends, don’t have high sustainability (ESG) scores, and aren’t blue chips, but do hold up well in bear markets. In theory, a hedge fund will take long positions in such companies (until retail investors take notice and the shares become overpriced). After reading this preamble, you’ll have figured out that we’re mostly talking about utilities. But that’s OK. You can still dollar-average into the non-utilities and do well, even though they’re often overpriced.

Mission: Run our Standard Spreadsheet on companies with A- or better S&P bond ratings and B+/L or better S&P stock ratings. Exclude companies in popular categories: “The 2 and 8 Club” (see Week 380), Blue Chips (see Week 379), the Dow Jones Industrial Average (see Week 378), and Sustainability Leaders (see Week 377). Also exclude companies that don’t do well in Bear Markets (see Column D in any of our Tables).

Execution: see Table.

Administration: This is a work in progress. The 7 examples in the Table are well-known to me; no doubt there are others in the S&P Index

Bottom Line: A smart investor knows that a Bear Market in a particular S&P industry will usually begin with little or no warning. By the time she starts to think about selling shares, it’s too late. Some kind of insurance will have to be in place before that happens. Warren Buffett’s well-known recommendation is that you dollar-average your stock investments and back those up with a short-term investment-grade bond fund. (He also recommends that you avoid the two habits that in his experience are likely to derail investors: drinking alcohol and borrowing money.) Here we add a third option, which is to find stocks that “fly under the radar” and hold up well in a Bear Market.

Risk Rating: 4 (where 10-Yr US Treasury Notes = 1, S&P 500 Index = 5, and gold bullion = 10)

Full Disclosure: I own shares of HRL.

"The 2 and 8 Club" (CR) 2017 Invest Tune All rights reserved.

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Sunday, October 21

Week 381 - Dividend-paying Production Agriculture Companies

Situation: Now we come to feeding the planet. Yes, row crops are a commodity so spot prices can go to extremes and stay there awhile. And yes, agricultural equipment makers can only sell product if farmers have money to spend. On the other hand, there have been improvements in satellite-based technology, 3rd party logistics, and financial services that dial back much of the risk introduced by weather. However, markets and prices have become sufficiently reliable that major countries no longer back up food supplies with large reserves. Similarly, investors are left to cope with consolidation brought on by global sourcing and improvements in planting and harvesting technologies. The supply chains for insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fertilizer have been disrupted to such a degree that companies have had to enter into wave after wave of cross-border merger & acquisition activity. To their credit, Dow Chemical and DuPont are US leaders in the Ag Chemical space who have merged without bringing in companies from other countries. Even DowDuPont will have to split into 3 companies in order to devote one enterprise to Ag Chemicals and Seed Development: Corteva Agriscience

Mission: Highlight the leading companies that support farm production by using our Standard Spreadsheet. Include beef, pork, and poultry processors that have a controlling interest in animal breeding and egg production facilities. Include IBM because it has a monopoly on weather satellites and owns The Weather Channel.

Execution: see Table.

Bottom Line: This is a dicey area for investors, even those who make a study of it. The good news is that the common stocks in all 10 companies remain reasonably priced (see Columns Y-AA), which is saying a lot.

Risk Rating: 8 (where 10-Yr US Treasury Notes = 1, S&P 500 Index = 5, gold bullion = 10)

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into IBM and CAT, and own shares of HRL.

"The 2 and 8 Club" (CR) 2017 Invest Tune All rights reserved.

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Sunday, October 14

Week 380 - Are Stocks in “The 2 and 8 Club” Overpriced?

Situation: There’s a lot of talk suggesting that an “overpriced” stock market is headed for a fall. And sure, stocks do have rich valuations because the Federal Reserve has kept money cheap for 10 years and bonds don’t pay enough interest to compete for investor’s money (because the Federal Reserve bought up long-dated bonds). Now the Federal Reserve is determined to reverse those policies and investors are having to get used to the idea that stocks will revert to true value. But we have to specify which metrics define “overpriced” and use at least two of those before concluding that a particular stock is overpriced (see our blogs for the past two weeks).

Mission: Run our Standard Spreadsheet, using colors in Columns Y and Z to highlight Graham Numbers and 7-Yr P/Es that are overpriced (purple) or underpriced (green).

Execution: see Table.

Bottom Line: In the aggregate, the 32 stocks in “The 2 and 8 Club” have Graham Numbers that are more than 200% of their current valuation. This leaves room for at least a 50% fall from present prices. However, our confirmation metric does not support such a dire prediction: The average 7-Yr P/E is a little under the upper limit of the normal range for valuations (25). 

Stocks issued by some companies appear to clearly be overpriced, in that the Graham Number is more than twice the stock’s price and the 7-Yr P/E is more than 30: TXN, ADP, UPS, HSY and CAT. Other companies appear to clearly be underpriced in that the Graham Number is less than the stock’s price and the 7-Yr P/E is less than 25: CMCSA, PNC, ADM, PFG and MET. The fact that 5/32 stocks are overpriced and 5/32 stocks are underpriced is indicative of normal distribution (Bell Curve). So, we’ll use this approach often in future blogs.

Risk Rating: 7 (where 10-Yr US Treasury Notes = 1, S&P 500 Index = 5, and gold bullion = 10)

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into NEE, JPM, CAT and IBM, and also own shares of TRV, MMM, CSCO and CMI.

"The 2 and 8 Club" (CR) 2018 Invest Tune All rights reserved.

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Sunday, October 7

Week 379 - Are “Blue Chip” Stocks Overvalued?

Situation: There are two subjective issues that we need to quantify for “buy and hold” investors: 1) Define a “blue chip” stock. 2) Define an “overvalued” stock. 

Our previous effort to define a “blue chip” stock in quantitative terms (see Week 361) left room for subjective interpretation and was more complicated than necessary. Here’s the new and improved definition: Any US-based company in the S&P 100 Index whose stock has been tracked by modern quantitative methods for 30+ years, and enjoys an S&P rating of B+/M or better. The very important final requirement is that the company issues bonds carrying an S&P rating of A- or better

In last week’s blog, we introduced two different quantitative methods for deciding whether or not a stock is overvalued: 1) the Graham Number, which sets an optimal price by using Book Value for the most recent quarter (mrq) and Earnings Per Share for the trailing 12 months (TTM); 2) the 7-Yr P/E, which removes aberrations that are introduced by “blowout earnings” or the negative impact on earnings that is often introduced by “mergers and acquisitions” and “company restructurings.” Either metric can be misleading if used alone, but that problem is largely negated when both are used together. 

Mission: Set up our Standard Spreadsheet for the 40 companies that meet criteria. Show the Graham Number in Columns X and the 7-Yr P/E in Column Z.

Execution: see Table.

Administration: In our original blog about Blue Chip stocks (Week 361), we thought the definition needed to require that companies pay a good and growing dividend. However, there are no objective reasons why a company’s stock will be of more value if profits are paid out piecemeal to investors rather than entirely in the form of capital gains. That’s one of the things you learn in business school from professors of Banking and Finance. Accounting professors also point out that a dividend is a mini-liquidation, as well as a second round of taxation on the company’s profits. There are subjective reasons to prefer companies that pay a good and growing dividend, like building brand value (an intangible asset) and showing that the company is “shareholder friendly.” Dividends also reduce risk by returning some of the original investment quickly with inflation-protected dollars.

Bottom Line: In the aggregate, these company’s shares are overpriced but not to an unreasonable degree (see Columns X-Z in the Table). However, only 8 are bargain-priced: Altria Group (MO), Comcast (CMCSA), Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-B), JP Morgan Chase (JPM), Bank of New York Mellon (BK), Wells Fargo (WFB), US Bancorp (USB), and Exxon Mobil (XOM). You’ll note that all 8 face challenges that will cause investors to pause before snapping up shares. 

Shares in 9 companies are overpriced by both metrics (Graham Number and 7-Yr P/E): Home Depot (HD), UnitedHealth (UNH), Lowe’s (LOW), Costco Wholesale (COST), Microsoft (MSFT), Texas Instruments (TXN), Raytheon (RTN), Honeywell International (HON), and Caterpillar (CAT). You’ll need to think about taking profits in those, if you’re a share-owner.

Risk Rating: 6 (where 10-Yr US Treasury Notes = 1, S&P 500 Index = 5, and gold bullion = 10)

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into MSFT, NEE, KO, JNJ, JPM, UNP, PG, WMT, CAT, XOM, and IBM. I also own shares of COST, MMM, BRK-B, and INTC.

"The 2 and 8 Club" (CR) 2017 Invest Tune All rights reserved.

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